District of Columbia Child Welfare: Long-Term Challenges to Ensuring Children's Well-Being

GAO-01-191 Published: Dec 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Jan 04, 2001.
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Many children have languished in the care of the District of Columbia's child welfare system for extended periods of time. Years of indifference, managerial shortcomings, and long-standing organizational divisiveness have undermined the system's ability to safeguard these children. As a result of these prolonged deficiencies, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a remedial order in 1991 to improve the performance of the child welfare agency. GAO assessed the agency's progress in complying with the court's requirements, specifically examining how financial and operational changes made by the Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA) have affected the protection of children and the provision of services to children and families, the extent to which critical elements of an effective child welfare system have been applied in the District, and issues that need to be addressed in planning for the transfer of CFSA back to local governance. GAO found that the financial and operational changes have not significantly improved the protection of children or the delivery of other child welfare services. Although the District has started to integrate child welfare services with other support services, it still lacks a fully developed collaborative structure to help foster more efficient day-to-day operations and improve program accountability. Furthermore, multiple issues must be resolved before CFSA can be transferred back to local governance.

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